The announcement by NBA player Jason Collins that he is gay is a watershed moment in sports and American history. Not just because of the message itself, but because of the overall positive reaction from players, coaches and fans.
Now, that’s something to celebrate.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black and I’m gay,” Collins writes in the May 6 edition of Sports Illustrated.
The revelation probably came as a shock to many of his teammates. He has played for several teams, most recently the Washington Wizards, and is currently a free agent. And a shock to basketball fans. But the good news is that after the shock wore off, there was little public outcry.
It says a lot about how far society has advanced that, besides President Obama’s supportive phone call, National Basketball Association stars such as Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade were quick to tweet messages of support. Same goes for prominent coaches, including Boston’s Doc Rivers.
The 7-foot, 255-pound Collins says he wants to be evaluated as a team player. From the immediate reaction, it appears that teams will evaluate him based on his basketball skills, not his sexual orientation.
Attitudes toward gays are changing rapidly. According to the General Social Survey, in 1987, 76 percent of Americans thought same-sex relations between adults were morally wrong. By 2012 that had fallen to 43 percent.
So it is disappointing, but not unexpected, to read about a few outliers with closed minds such as Mike Wallace of the NFL Miami Dolphins, who tweeted: “All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys.” At least he deleted the comment and issued an apology.
But then there was NBA analyst Chris Broussard, who cited his own religious beliefs while on ESPN. According to Broussard, living openly as a homosexual is a sin and doing so is “walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ.”
Collins knew his decision wouldn’t put him on an easy path. He could have stayed silent, but he and others have begun speaking truth to power.
Collins’ action follows recent announcements by American soccer player Robbie Rogers and women’s basketball player Brittney Griner that they are gay. Rogers, 25, also announced that he was retiring from soccer, while Griner, the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft, is about to start her professional career.
What people were waiting for was a player in the big male pro sports leagues to step forward. By speaking up, Collins has become a role model for everyone, not just for gays. And he’s allowed the world to do what it should do when finding out someone is gay. Shrug and move on.